Budapest, February 17 (MTI) – The civil Momentum Movement on Friday said it submitted over a quarter million signatures to the Budapest election office to initiate a local referendum on Budapest’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic Summer Games.
“Our message to [ruling] Fidesz, [Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán and [Budapest Mayor] István Tarlós is that it was a grave error on their part not to have sought out the public’s opinion on Hungary’s bid to host the Olympics,” András Fekete-Győr, the movement’s leader, told a press conference in front of the election office. Momentum will now do so in their place, he said, announcing that the movement had collected a total of 266,151 signatures.
He called on Orbán and Tarlós not to “stymie” the referendum, arguing that doing so would be “an act of cowardice” on their part. Getting in the way of the referendum would also be a “betrayal” of those who support Hungary’s Olympic bid, he added.
Momentum started collecting signatures on Jan. 18. It had 30 days to collect the minimum required 138,527 valid signatures.
Fekete-Győr submitted the local referendum initiative as a private individual. Momentum’s referendum question reads:
“Do you agree that the municipality of Budapest should withdraw its bid to host the 2024 Olypmic and Paralympic Games?”
Fekete-Győr called the movement’s 30-day signature drive “one of the most uplifting periods” in the history of Hungarian democracy.
“More than a quarter million signatures were collected so that the money pencilled in for the Olympics could instead be spent on modernising hospitals and schools,” he said.
Under Hungary’s referendum law, the Budapest election office will now have 45 days to review the signatures.
Fekete-Győr told MTI that Momentum’s representatives will exercise their right to be present when the signatures are being reviewed.
Momentum’s signature drive had support from several opposition parties.
Responding to MTI’s question, Fekete-Győr said green opposition LMP had collected 32,000-35,000 signatures, Együtt around 10,000 and the satirical Kétfarkú Kutya (Two-tailed Dog) party 4,000. The Socialist Party also chipped in with signatures, although Fekete-Győr could not give an exact number. Socialist MEP Tibor Szanyi turned in 170 signatures and Agnes Kunhalmi, the party’s Budapest leader, around 1,600-1,700. The Momentum Movement itself collected around 200,000 signatures, he said.
Earlier in the day, Budapest’s mayor said he would consider whether Budapest’s bid should be withdrawn if local residents supported a referendum on it.
Tarlós blamed the opposition for earlier supporting the Olympic plans then “backing out” and called the opposition’s attitude “treachery”.
“Those who had earlier expressed full support [for the Olympic bid] are now taking on the role of the protectors of the people…” Tarlós said.
Tarlós noted that in 2004, then Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky along with several other politicians still active today had voiced “maximum support for the Olympics”.
He also noted that before the launch of the IOC’s Agenda 2020 programme aimed at making it cheaper to host the Games, he had been skeptical about Budapest’s ability to stage the event. But he said he had changed his opinion after the implementation of the Agenda 2020 scheme, arguing that it had fundamentally altered the conditions for hosting the Olympics.
Tarlós criticised opposition politicians supporting a referendum on Budapest’s Olympic bid for not having started collecting signatures for it when the capital approved the bid in 2015.
“There was zero indication a year-and-a-half ago that these politicians wanted a referendum,” he insisted.
The mayor said he would consult with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the matter.
“I will neither deceive, nor circumvent the people” if a referendum is held on the Olympics, he insisted.
Zsolt Borkai, head of the Hungarian Olympic Committee (MOB), said in a statement that the opposition parties had weakened the capital’s chances of staging the 2024 Games. It is now up to the municipal council to decide whether Budapest intends to stay in the running to host the event, he said.